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9. Obeah
This conversation in Colonel Menendez's study produced a very unpleasant
impression upon my mind. The atmosphere of Cray's Folly seemed to become
charged with unrest. Of Madame de Staemer and Miss Beverley I saw nothing up
to the time that I retired to dress. Having dressed I walked into Harley's room,
anxious to learn if he had formed any theory to account for the singular business
which had brought us to Surrey.
Harley had excused himself directly we had left the study, stating that he wished
to get to the village post-office in time to send a telegram to London. Our host
had suggested a messenger, but this, as well as the offer of a car, Harley had
declined, saying that the exercise would aid reflection. Nevertheless, I was
surprised to find his room empty, for I could not imagine why the sending of a
telegram should have detained him so long.
Dusk was falling, and viewed from the open window the Tudor garden below
looked very beautiful, part of it lying in a sort of purplish shadow and the rest
being mystically lighted as though viewed through a golden veil. To the whole
picture a sort of magic quality was added by a speck of high-light which rested
upon the face of the old sun-dial.
I thought that here was a fit illustration for a fairy tale; then I remembered the
Colonel's account of how he had awakened in the act of entering this romantic
plaisance, and I was touched anew by an unrestfulness, by a sense of the
I observed a book lying upon the dressing table, and concluding that it was one
which Harley had brought with him, I took it up, glancing at the title. It was "Negro
Magic," and switching on the light, for there was a private electric plant in Cray's
Folly, I opened the book at random and began to read.
"The religion of the negro," said this authority, "is emotional, and more often than
not associated with beliefs in witchcraft and in the rites known as Voodoo or Obi
Mysteries. It has been endeavoured by some students to show that these are
relics of the Fetish worship of equatorial Africa, but such a genealogy has never
been satisfactorily demonstrated. The cannibalistic rituals, human sacrifices, and
obscene ceremonies resembling those of the Black Sabbath of the Middle Ages,
reported to prevail in Haiti and other of the islands, and by some among the
negroes of the Southern States of America, may be said to rest on doubtful
authority. Nevertheless, it is a fact beyond doubt that among the negroes both of
the West Indies and the United States there is a widespread belief in the powers
of the Obeah man. A native who believes himself to have come under the spell of
such a sorcerer will sink into a kind of decline and sometimes die."
At this point I discovered several paragraphs underlined in pencil, and concluding
that the underlining had been done by Paul Harley, I read them with particular
care. They were as follows: "According to Hesketh J. Bell, the term Obeah is
most probably derived from the substantive Obi, a word used on the East coast
of Africa to denote witchcraft, sorcery, and fetishism in general. The etymology of